“I’ll go for a run just as soon as I finish this article. … Right, should return that call from Roger. … Well, now I’m hungry and I can’t run on an empty stomach. … Now I’m feeling too full. … Rain clouds?! Better wait and see if it clears up. … Great. It’s getting dark now. … What a shame; I really was going to have that run. There’s always tomorrow!”
We lie! To ourselves and anyone who’ll listen. You see, part of me knew I had no intention of going for that run. Actually, I honestly love to exercise. And not just because it helps me sleep deeply and increases my energy.
I know that exercise motivation doesn’t come naturally to most people. It didn’t for me. I had to work at getting and keeping myself motivated to run, do yoga, and weight-lift.
The following tips work for me (and for many of my clients who need to exercise). I know they’ll help your exercise motivation, too.
Tip 1: Don’t think; do
Don’t give yourself time to think about exercise; over-thinking saps motivation. If you scheduled exercise for 5.30 pm and find yourself thinking about it during the day, make yourself think about something else. When 5.30 comes, just do it. Analysis paralysis is not the way to exercise motivation. It’s like getting out of bed; the more you think about it, the more time you spend in bed. Just do it. There are times when it’s best not to think.
Emil Zátopek, one of the greatest middle- and long-distance runners in history, said: “If one can stick to the training throughout the many long years, then willpower is no longer a problem. It’s raining? That doesn’t matter. I am tired? That’s beside the point. It’s simply that I just have to.”
Tell yourself your upcoming exercise session is ‘non-negotiable’. Are you a contender or not?
But if you do start thinking about not doing it …
Tip 2: Imagine how not exercising will make you feel
This is a strange one. After all, most motivators try to get you to focus on how great you’ll feel (which also works). But this tip is shockingly effective.
If you find yourself trying to squirm out of exercise, focus on how you’d feel later if you didn’t exercise. If you don’t go for that walk, yoga, or aerobics session, you feel: disappointment in yourself, weakness, the lack of ‘feel good’ chemicals that would be circulating if only you’d been motivated enough to exercise.
Strongly imagining how you’ll feel if you don’t fulfil your scheduled exercise session may be enough to propel you into action. And, really, there is only ever one exercise session to think about.
Constantly telling yourself, ”I have to exercise three times a week” or ”every day” can feel overwhelming. Why do that? Just tell yourself, ”I am going to exercise today.” That’s all. All those single exercise sessions soon add up.
Tip 3: Remember the wonderful physical benefits of exercise
- Improved heart and lung function
- Healthier complexion
- Better sex life (and more chance of getting one!)
- Better digestion (and bowel function)
- Brighter eyes
- Slimmer and more toned body
- Deeper, more refreshing sleep
- More attractive appearance
- Increased youthfulness
- More efficient metabolism – you even burn more calories between exercise sessions!
I love the thought that, for almost twenty-four hours after an exercise session, you’re burning off more calories than you would have been. Even while sleeping!
Re-read this list between exercise sessions. Keep it fresh in your mind.
Tip 4: Remember the plentiful psychological benefits of regular exercise
- Better mood: Physical movement is the quickest way to produce serotonin (the brain’s ‘happiness chemical’). The more intense the movement, the higher the production of serotonin. Regular exercise three times a week has been found to be more effective at lifting depression than taking antidepressants (1).
- Self-confidence: Regular exercise gives you a sense of self-mastery, increased confidence, and higher self-esteem. This can have knock-on benefits to other areas of life.
- Stress management: Exercise makes you better at dealing with stress. Under pressure, ﬁt people show less physical tension and a lower resting heart rate than less fit individuals.
- Increased intelligence: Working out improves your brain’s performance as well as your body. You can become smarter, and improve your memory and other mental functions! Chess champions often up their physical exercise program before big tournaments.
Tip 5: Vary your exercise routine
Take a week off from the gym or the aerobics class and go jogging in the park instead to get the additional mood-boosting effects of being in nature. A night of dancing is also great exercise. Do some gardening. Take the dog out for a run. Mix it up. Variation is the spice of exercise motivation.
Tip 6: Visualize yourself exercising
The body does what the mind envisions. You are much more likely to do something – anything – if you first strongly imagine seeing yourself doing it (2). The better able you are to visualize yourself exercising (as if watching yourself from the outside), the more motivated you’ll actually be to do it. You’ll have set yourself a mental blueprint that now wants to be activated.
Happily, I’m now at the point where I don’t actually have to feel super-motivated to exercise; it’s something I just do. And I feel bad if I don’t do it. Imagine not cleaning your teeth for a few days. You’d probably be quite keen to get back to it.
Right. With all this in mind, I’m feeling extremely motivated and am off for my daily run. : ) (Seriously.)
Mark Tyrrell is a Guest Blogger for PickTheBrain, therapist, trainer and author. He has written thousands of articles on self help and personal development, many of which can be found at his website UncommonHelp.me
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(1) James A. Blumenthal, Ph.D. and his colleagues surprised many people in 1999 when they demonstrated that regular exercise is more effective than antidepressant medications for patients with major depression. The researchers studied 156 older adults diagnosed with major depression, assigning them to receive the antidepressant Zoloft (setraline), 30 minutes of exercise three times a week, or both. According to Blumenthal, “Our findings suggest that a modest exercise program is an effective, robust treatment for patients with major depression who are positively inclined to participate in it. The benefits of exercise are likely to endure particularly among those who adopt it as a regular, ongoing life activity.” A follow-up study in 2000 showed that patients who maintained their exercise patterns were doing much better than those who were just taking medication.
(2) Psychologist Lisa Libby, Ph.D. and colleagues found that participants in her research were much more likely to vote if they had first visualized themselves voting from a third-person perspective. Visualizing ourselves doing something primes the brain and body to actually do it.